Fights in Almost Triplicate

At a very young age, I felt things stronger and harder than it seemed like anyone around me did. I loved harder, I laughed louder, but along with having more joy, I consistently felt like I had more pain. I cried harder, my heart broke easier, I stayed sad longer.

When I would see other people move on from a bad situation, my head and my heart were always a beat behind, and my mother would say, “Get over it.” She would tell me, “Stop being so dramatic and move on,” but I never felt like I could manage that. I felt heavy like there was an invisible crane in the air with chains around my body, and the only reason I went forward was because its wheels were still moving.

When I was 14 years old, my sister died. She was my best friend and a role model. After school, I would come home to a place where I never felt as if I was loved or appreciated or accepted, and there was always my sister to remind me that I was. Just like that, the only safe space I had was gone too. I don’t remember much of the following year. My mom cried a lot, and my dad was angry all the time, and my brother was so haunted that he moved across the country. Meanwhile, I just… wasted away. I got in with a bad crowd, I did some drugs—nothing crazy—drank a little too much, and got into a relationship that would be toxic for the next six years of my life.

I was a child. My grandfather, Louis Wynne, is a noted psychologist and author of books such as Deliver Us From Evil, and Healing the Hurting Soul. My mother is a crisis therapist. While I was a child wasting away and making all the wrong decisions, no one acknowledged my depression or tried to help me.

They ignored it as if they didn’t see it at all. Instead, they just saw a rebellious teen and never bothered to look any deeper, though their degrees should have urged them to.

At 17, I lost another very important person. By this time I was on an upward climb with my mental health. I knew that I had good friends and people that loved me but losing him when things just seemed to be right again destroyed me. I screamed and I cried and I mourned like anyone else but by the time the grieving process “should have ended” it had eaten away at me so much that I barely recognized the girl in the mirror.

Fast forward to college, when my father was in a near fatal accident and simultaneously, I was kicked out of a program I had spent two years committing my life to. I was lost. I was sad and scared. Every breath I took was heavy with something I couldn’t describe then and can’t now. My roommates, who were my best friends, begged me to come out with them. On the rare occasion that I did, it was only to get shit-faced and high, and then retreat back to my room. I lost my job and I failed out of school shortly after.  It was only then that my mother finally sought me help, but when the psychiatrist gave me a diagnosis and a medication, my mother no longer believed I needed the help that she had helped me get.

My psychologist of a mother told me that despite my diagnoses, I did not have depression. It was a dirty word. “You have situational depression, we all do. That’s life.” I tried day in and day out to explain to her that I wasn’t sad about a situation. That somedays, I just couldn’t breathe because I felt like today was the day the boulder on my chest would finally crush the air from my lungs. But my grandfather would chime in with the idea that depression is caused by our surroundings and my mom would parrot the idea. Anything to keep her daughter from associating with a label like depression.

It always baffled me how they could vouch for the validity of the disease in their jobs and refuse to acknowledge it in their own homes. How my mom of a teenage daughter could come home from her days of working with self-harm patients, look at my arms, and blame our cats. It still baffles me. I am not a saddened little girl who has a hard life and cries about it. I’m a very strong girl, with a mental illness that I fight every day. Despite the fact that they try and paint me as the victim of sadness, I am not. I am a warrior, and my scars are battle scars.

There is a reason they don’t allow doctors to treat their families. Bias and blindness are powerful villains that seep into our lives and take control of the people we so desperately need to understand us—the people we expect to understand us the very most.

Listen to me: your mental illness is valid. Your feelings and emotions are valid no matter what anyone tries to tell you, even if they have a Ph.D. at the end of their name. Sadness and depression are not synonymous and don’t ever let anyone lessen your struggle by making it seem as if they are. In the end, it won’t matter whether the people around you acknowledge your battle or not, because it’s not their battle, it’s yours. Look them in the eye, tell them to mind their business, then stand up and slay your dragons. And if you can’t slay them today, that’s okay too; there’s always tomorrow. Your mental illness is your battle to fight in your time, and you are a warrior lying in bed as you would be if going to work.

RachEl Estep bio

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